Smart Republicans Not Happy About Going Down With the Paul Ryan Ship

Both conservatives and liberals are thrilled by Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate. Conservatives are thrilled because it suddenly makes the election into a real referendum on hard-nosed right-wing values, including tax cuts for the wealthy and entitlement cuts for the not-so-wealthy. Liberals are thrilled because….it suddenly makes the election into a real referendum on hard-nosed right-wing values, including tax cuts for the wealthy and entitlement cuts for the not-so-wealthy.

Publicly, both sides claim they can win this referendum. In private, one side is apparently not so sure:

Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.

….It is not that the public professions of excitement about the Ryan selection are totally insincere. It is that many of the most optimistic Republican operatives will privately acknowledge that their views are being shaped more by fingers-crossed hope than by a hard-headed appraisal of what’s most likely to happen.

And the more pessimistic strategists don’t even feign good cheer: They think the Ryan pick is a disaster for the GOP….“Very not helpful down ballot — very,” said one top Republican consultant….Another strategist emailed midway through Romney and Ryan’s first joint event Saturday: “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.” 

I haven’t seen a similar story about private liberal reaction, but I’ll bet that’s because there’s no story to tell. Democrats are dancing in the corridors both privately and publicly. As well they should be: conservatives might like to talk a big game about cutting entitlements, but actions speak louder than words. In 2010, when they had a chance to win an election by running a scorched-earth campaign against President Obama’s cuts to Medicare, they tossed their conservative principles firmly under the bus because they knew perfectly well that entitlement cuts are a big political loser.

The fever swamp wing of the Republican Party might have worked itself into a frenzy this year, convinced that the American public is totally ready to wipe out its own retirement security, but cooler heads know better. I continue to think that the VP choice doesn’t matter a lot, but this election is going to be close and even a point or two matters. And in the bright light of morning, anyone who hasn’t drunk the tea party Kool-Aid knows that Paul Ryan will probably cost Republicans a point or two in November.

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